Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Experience At An Ethics Centre Meeting and What I Learned.

      I woke up on the morning of February 5 extremely excited. Not only was I going to go an Ethics Centre meeting at The Albany Club in Toronto, I got to take the GO Train there. Trains are fun for me and I get excited at the process of moving forward while sitting backwards. I did my best to put together a decent outfit from the few professional looking articles of clothing that I own. A pair of black pants, a pink blouse and a brown blazer; Perfect. After a short drive to the GO Station my journey could finally begin.
       Exiting Union Station was absolutely terrifying for a country kid. I was getting swept along with the crowd before I had the opportunity to read the signs. I ended up finding a door with a bright red “EXIT” over head, I saw sunlight and moved towards freedom. Once outside I was prepared with an address in one hand and Google Maps on my phone in the other. I only walked in the wrong direction for about three blocks before the little dot on my screen alerted me that I was going the wrong way.
The Albany Club, 91 King Street East, Toronto
When I finally arrived I had the uncontrollable feeling of a child at a grown-up party. The dark wood walls, deep red carpet and lit fireplaces. It was a little more than intimidating, the fear of saying something silly or juvenile and embarrassing my school or myself was overwhelming.
       I attempted to hide my fear that I’m sure was displayed quite simply on my face, and tried my best to look like a grown-up. As they say: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So I shook hands, introduced myself and picked up the correct nametag, eventually making my way to sit in my assigned seat for lunch. My mind raced with all the etiquette my mother had taught me as a child, sit up straight, chew with your mouth closed, and start with the fork on the outside. The food was absolutely delicious, considering my college-student budget most meals typically consist of mac-an-cheese, so I was just glad to get a decent meal.
      I stumbled through a discussion about my program, things about Fleming College and eventually the weather. I was looking forward to the moment when the speaker would begin and the awkward silences would end. Luckily it didn’t take very long for the speaker to begin and for me to remember why I was there in the first place.
      David Anderson was announced as the guest speaker, he serves as a board and CEO advisor for different public, crown and private organizations. I had never heard of him before now, and I was kicking myself for not being better prepared.

David W.Anderson
Founder and CEO of The Anderson Governance Group     
The topic of his discussion;
Governance of corporate boards

       I didn’t have much of a knowledge base for how corporations were run, but somewhere in the back of my brain it told me that boards were the group of people who made decisions for the corporation, and I hoped that I was right.
       David began by speaking about the importance of setting up a framework of goals then having the positive leader in order to accomplish these goals.  He spoke about how having a positive leader as well as accomplishing business in a positive way can avoid negative social, environmental, or cultural consequences. I had to agree with him on this, having someone in power that is considerate to the external factors of business is important. Someone who is able to set goals encompassing different social factors, environmental factors, as well as cultural factors would aid significantly in more sustainable business practices.
      He added that boards need to have a level of self-governance and accountability. Someone needs to be held responsible, due to the fact that un-governed power can so easily lead to corruption. It is important to find the balance of freedom and constraint that allows for sustainability as well as ethical business decision making.
      David offered a few solutions to the issue of corporate governance and how to implement strategies while keeping in mind the social influences within the dynamics of board members, also that without external input or scrutiny it is possible for the credibility of decision making to suffer. He suggested that expanding the roll of the shareholders to motivate as well as take power from the board to keep a better eye on decision-making. As well as listen to those who will be affected by your decision, because people are no longer afraid to speak up.
       I found the topic of corporate governance very interesting. I agreed with everything that David spoke about but felt as if some of it should be common sense; to welcome input and scrutiny, to distribute governance and power, and improve accountability by possibly requiring reports on consequences from decisions made. All valuable pieces of advice that I feel like should already be in place in business. As we moved through the discussion I remember finding it odd the number of people who seemed to disagree with him, talking about additional costs as well as screening within the hiring process.
       One lady in the crowd mentioned that if boards were to advertise job listings publicly in order to find the right positive leader, they would have to deal with numerous female applicants. Would the ‘old boys club’ be willing to make way for positive leaders that are women? She got no answer, just laughter and agreement from the crowd. But it left me wondering the limitations that I will still need to face as a business woman in a world still run by men.
      As the discussion came to a close and David departed, I was left feeling slightly more confident in my presence at that meeting. I had followed the discussion, and I believe that I understood most of it, I even felt as though I had learned something. As I collected my coat and thanked the hosts for having me, I felt a little more grown-up and a little less afraid to say something silly.  Heading out onto the streets of Toronto seemed a little less daunting, as I made my way to Union Station looking forward to the train ride home where I would get to move forward while sitting backwards.


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